Privacy Not Just About Protecting Data-It's About Dignity

Your members visit your credit union to carry out very private business. Many of them have the ability to log-on to their personal computers to make these transactions in the privacy of their home, yet they choose to make a face-to-face visit.

Some of these walk-in members are visiting because they are unsure of their Internet transaction abilities or are uneasy about online privacy. It's not likely that they have come to your office for the free gourmet coffee, though these freebies are always welcome. Many of your members are simply stopping by to have a very personal financial transaction with an official receipt in hand. Your credit union design should facilitate your members' desire for privacy during their visit.

There are a few different credit union styles with varying levels of privacy that can be classified as follows: café-style; traditional teller window style; and now, a newer, more member- attentive and private type of credit union experience called "Agency Branch Credit Unions." Agency branch credit unions are responding to a 2006 survey conducted to determine financial customer habits and preferences. The agency branch design concept was developed to provide a consultative and private approach to the member experience, while opening up opportunities for the credit union to present new products and services.

Privacy Is Important

Privacy is important as credit unions are building new branches to be convenient to their members' neighborhoods and workplaces. Now when your member visits a café-style or traditional credit union, they may encounter curious neighbors or co-workers at the check desk, waiting line or at the teller window. More unsettling is that most of the other patrons are likely to be strangers-not private at all. Interestingly, many of the newer credit unions are surmising that members actually may want less privacy and want to discuss their finances over a gourmet coffee bar in their new café/lobby. It's cool, but may not be the best design for privacy.

According to a March 20, 2006 survey by Marcom Research for the ICBA, when respondents were asked about personal service, they indicated (71.1%) that personal service is very important. "Personal" can be defined as "relating to the parts of somebody's life that are private, intended for a particular individual rather than anyone else."

While identity theft is a high concern, we need to consider designing privacy details into our facilities. We don't want someone next to us reading our deposit slips. How would your member at the transaction window feel if the teller informs him in front of a line of others that his account is overdrawn... while his business client is listening at the next window. What if an identity thief is able to record personal information by hearing credit card or Social Security Numbers verbalized during a transaction? It is our responsibility to provide privacy for members. We must respond to personal intrusion possibilities through thoughtful designs.

By creating an agency branch credit union we facilitate privacy and enhance service. As our member enters the credit union, we should consider a greeter for a personal welcome and directions. This greeter should privately ask the member to sign in and inquire about services they may be looking for. This information should be inconspicuously passed along to a queuing system allowing waiting credit union agents to evaluate the members' profile before meeting with him. This preview allows agents to consider offering additional services or suggestions that match the member's profile. It also provides an opportunity to use the member's name for a more personal greeting.

Next our member is directed by the greeter toward the "member services gallery" - not a standard lobby with a cattle line. The member services gallery is comfortable allowing patrons to relax for a moment while waiting. They are greeted with new credit union product ads displayed on a large video-wall. The video-wall may be highlighting a new car with the credit union's monthly payment amount; a new house showing your "surprisingly doable" mortgage rates; or your investment performance charts. This display is more versatile than a statically displayed car or washing machine in the middle of the lobby surrounded by theatre ropes. And because of the multi-media capabilities provided by a video-wall, the broader range of products you display will appeal to a wider member base. Your member may also have opportunities to pick-up pamphlets highlighting your products and services displayed in ergonomically designed pamphlet stacks that promote your brand. Artistic promotional posters may accent the well-lit display gallery. The check desk is designed into carrels that offer better privacy. You may also choose to have computer stations for your members to shop on-line using your credit union's credit card; or to research products.

A Private Arrangement

When your member's queue is up (taking no longer than it takes to stand in a teller line) the credit union financial agent who will be assisting your members will walk into the member services gallery, make a personal greeting by name and lead your member into a private transaction room. These private rooms are in place of teller windows, having closeable, transparent entrances for privacy. Your member is guided into the attractive consultation-style room toward a comfortable chair at the agent's desk.

Both the agent and member comfortably carry-out the same transaction that would normally occur in an echoing lobby: But in this case, nobody can hear except your agent. This private arrangement also allows your agent comfortable opportunities to offer additional service suggestions or special promotions. You may offer a cup of gourmet coffee too. This entire transaction is an efficient, attentive, and private experience.

After your member has completed his business, the agent escorts him toward the exit, passing near the pamphlet stand and video-wall, warmly inviting him back for a future visit. The agent returns to the member services gallery and greets the next member in the same way.

Agency branch credit unions "holistically design" the entire experience and optimizes your credit union's opportunity for personal connections. It facilitates private conversations about your members' needs making the design effort well worth it for both your credit union and your patrons.

This way of doing business respects your members' privacy providing a personal experience that will leave them with a comfortable feeling. You have designed the entire experience. They will be back.

John Shedd is an architect and construction project executive with R. W. Larson Financial Facilities, He can be contacted at 716-487-0354 or via inquiries<at>rwlarsonarchitects.com.


Credit Union Journal encourages reader feedback. Letters to the Editor can be sent to Managing Editor Lisa Freeman at lfreeman<at>cujournal.com. Letters can also be faxed to 561-832-2939 or submitted online at www.cujournal.com.